Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Autumn in China

Pink Autumn, by Victor Wang (2017) (Wikipedia). China’s demographic crisis is much worse than what official statistics let on.

With its population ageing as a result of longer lifespans and a dwindling number of children, the world's most populous nation decided in 2016 to allow all couples to have a second child, relaxing a tough one-child policy in place since 1978.

But birth rates plummeted for the second consecutive year last year. Policymakers now fret about the impact a long-term decline in births will have on the economy and its strained health and social services. (Stanway 2019)

The above Reuters article appeared two weeks ago. Although China lifted its one-child policy in 2016, its total fertility rate is still declining and now stands at 1.6 children per woman—well below the replacement level of 2.1 children. Delegates to China's parliament are saying that "radical steps are needed."

Are things that bad? No … they're worse. China's fertility rate is much lower than the official figure of 1.6 and probably close to what we see in Taiwan (1.1), in Singapore's Chinese community (1.1), and in Malaysia's Chinese community (1.3). Moreover, it is continuing to decline and will soon fall below the threshold of one child per woman, if it has not already done so. Finally, this very low fertility has lasted long enough to exhaust all population momentum. The population will soon begin to shrink, most likely five years earlier than the officially projected date of 2030. 

The real figures

The official figure of 1.6 children per woman is consistent with estimates by respected international bodies: 1.62 (World Bank, 2016); 1.8 (Population Reference Bureau, 2016); and 1.6 (United Nations, 2011-2015) (Wang 2018). The total fertility rate can also be estimated from data that China collects every year, i.e., the sample surveys taken by the National Bureau of Statistics. Using this source, Mengqiao Wang came up with much lower figures:

[…] far below the 2.1 replacement level, national TFR fluctuated around 1.4 since 2003, before dropping to around 1.2 since 2010 and finally reaching an astoundingly low value of 1.05 in 2015. (Wang 2018)

This pattern of very low fertility is limited to Han Chinese, particularly those in the northeastern provinces of Liaoning, Heilongjiang, and Jilin. In those provinces, the total fertility rate has fallen to 0.75 children per woman, and death rates have already overtaken birth rates:

Population shrinkage was already a fact for the northeastern part of the country, and it remained a question of when but not whether that fact would spread to other areas of the nation (official estimate of population peak at 1.45 billion by 2030 but unofficial estimate of 1.41 billion as earliest as 2025. (Wang 2018)

Why are these figures so much lower than the official figures? The main reason given is that the one-child policy caused widespread underreporting of births: many Chinese were having second children but not reporting them to government statisticians for fear of being penalized. This is seen in the differences between the raw data of the sample surveys and the official estimates of the National Bureau of Statistics. 

The NBS estimates, however, seem to be based on the sample survey data … with an upward adjustment to take underreporting of births into account: "Ironically, the NBS mentioned that the annual total births announced were calculated and inferred from the same sample surveys this study analyzed" (Wang 2018). So we are trapped in a circular argument: the sample surveys must be missing many births because the NBS estimates show a higher birth rate. But the same NBS estimates have been adjusted upwards because so many births are supposedly being missed.

Moreover, if the one-child policy had caused so much underreporting of births, the number of reported births should have increased in 2016, when that policy was scrapped, and that increase should have persisted in subsequent years. That's not what happened. The number of births did rise in 2016 and then fell in 2017 and 2018. The rise was probably due to some parents deciding to have a second child because there were no longer any financial penalties. The "backlog" of potential childbearing has now been cleared, and the fertility rate has returned to its pre-2016 slump.

It should be emphasized that the decline in Chinese fertility is now being driven by the growing number of women who have no children at all. This childlessness cannot be blamed on the one-child policy, and it is questionable, in fact, whether that policy has had much impact on the fertility rate for the past two decades. Total fertility rates have declined to the same very low level among Chinese people in Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia—where there has never been a one-child policy.

How bad is it?

Pretty bad. The fertility rate dropped below the replacement level in 1992 and has been at very low levels (1.4 or lower) since 2003. There is very little population momentum left, and an absolute drop in numbers should begin in the mid-2020s. Meanwhile, the total fertility rate may decline even further. In 2018, it was 0.98 in South Korea and 0.75 in northeastern China (Kyu-min and Su-ji 2019; Wang 2018). In all of East Asia, this pattern has only one exception: North Korea, where the rate is 1.98 children per woman (Wikipedia 2019). This is what we call “a failed state.”

One can always say that China has well over a billion people and can afford to shed a few hundred million. The relevant figure, however, is not the total population but rather the number of women who can bear children. That figure is a lot smaller and will continue to shrink. Women of childbearing age are defined (generously) as being 15 to 49 years old. Their numbers peaked at 383 million in 2011 and have been falling each year by 4 to 6 million. If we look at the most fertile age group (20-29), their numbers are expected to fall from 107.7 million in 2016 to around 80 million in 2020 (Wang 2018). 

There is no real precedent for what is happening. In the Western world, the fertility rate has declined over a longer time and has reached very low levels only in some countries, notably those of southern and eastern Europe. Moreover, unlike those countries China is still creating jobs at a high rate. Who will fill those jobs?

I addressed that question in a series of posts I wrote nine years ago. The abundance of jobs and empty housing will suck in immigrants from poorer countries, initially from Southeast Asia and then increasingly from South Asia and Africa. The African influx into Asia will be the big surprise of the 21st century, being especially noticeable in Malaysia and South China.

What can be done?

The first step toward solving a problem is to recognize that it exists. Most problems go unsolved because no one takes that first step. China is starting to move in that direction, but the word "starting" should be stressed. As Wang (2018) notes, there is a recurring tendency by the Chinese bureaucracy to downplay the demographic crisis. In some cases, the relevant data are not published:

Regrettably, such data for 2016 were no longer published in the most recent 2017 yearbook as the official publication mentioned that "In comparison with China Statistical Yearbook 2016, following revisions have been made in this new version in terms of the statistical contents and in editing: Of the chapter "Population", table named Age-specific Fertility Rate of Childbearing Women by Age of Mother and Birth Order is deleted." (China Statistical Yearbook 2017). Reasons were unknown for the deletion of this table, and it was unclear if the deletion would be temporary or permanent, or whether such deletion would continue in future years beyond 2016. (Wang 2018).

With determined effort, very low fertility can be reversed. Israel has gone the farthest in this direction, having achieved replacement fertility even among secular Jews. One must provide not only financial incentives but also cultural and ideological ones. Marriage and family formation must be seen positively. In this, unfortunately, the West is not an example to follow.

Wang (2018) suggests four measures to deal with the demographic crisis:

- Make demographic data fully accessible for debate and discussion.

- Eliminate controls on couples who want to have more than two children.

- Lower the minimum age for marriage, which is currently 22 for men and 20 for women.

- Allow out-of-wedlock births.

The first three measures seem sensible, although the second one would probably have little effect. Such controls are already absent in Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia. The last measure is terrible. All things being equal, a single mother will have fewer children than a married mother. Yes, a single mother can eventually marry or remarry, but such marriages tend to be less stable and thus less conducive to future childbearing, largely because the husband is less willing to support children that are not his own.

Of course, not all things are equal. Single mothers tend to be more present-oriented and, thus, more indifferent to the long-term costs of their actions, like those of having children. But what is to be gained by encouraging such people to reproduce? The experience of the West has been that single mothers, and their children, end up being a net cost to society.

In the West, the increase in single motherhood has coincided very closely with the decline in fertility, and both reflect the same underlying problem: people are less willing to commit to a long-term relationship and raise the children it produces. We increasingly live in a culture where the only valid entity is the individual. Everything else—family, community, nation—is illegitimate.


Frost, P. (2010a). China and interesting times ... Evo and Proud, February 25

Frost, P. (2010b). China and interesting times. Part II. Evo and Proud, March 4

Frost, P. (2010c). China and interesting times. Part III. Evo and Proud, March 11

Frost, P. (2010d). Has China come to the end of history? Evo and Proud, March 18

Kyu-min, C. and S. Su-ji. (2019). Fertility rate plummets to less than 1 child per woman. National Politics, February 28

Stanway, D. (2019). China lawmakers urge freeing up family planning as birth rates plunge. Reuters, March 12

Wang, M. (2018). For Whom the Bell Tolls: A Retrospective and Predictive Study of Fertility Rates in China (November 8, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3234861

Wikipedia (2019). Demographics of North Korea.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

IQ of biracial children and adults

First snow in Minnesota (c. 1895), Robert Koehler. Biracial children have IQ scores halfway between those of white children and black children, even when they are conceived by white single mothers and adopted into middle-class white families in their first year of life.

You may have heard about the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study. It was a longitudinal study of black, biracial, and white children adopted into white middle-class Minnesotan families, as well as the biological children of the same families (Levin, 1994; Lynn, 1994; Scarr and Weinberg, 1976; Weinberg, Scarr, and Waldman, 1992). IQ was measured when the adopted children were on average 7 years old and the biological children on average 10 years old. They were tested again ten years later. Between the two tests, all four groups declined in mean IQ. On both tests, however, the differences among the four groups remained unchanged, particularly the 15-point gap between black and white adoptees. 

The biracial children remained halfway between the black and white adoptees. Could this be due to the parental environment being likewise half and half? Well, no. All of them were raised by white parents, and they were adopted at an early age: 19 months on average for the white adoptees, 9 months for the biracial adoptees, and 32 months for the black adoptees. The last figure is emphasized by Scarr and Weinberg (1976) as a reason for the IQ gap between the black and white adoptees. 

Fine, but what about the IQ gap between the biracial and white adoptees? Almost all of the biracial children were adopted at a young age and born to white single mothers who had completed high school. From conception to adulthood they developed in a "white" environment. If anything, the white adoptees should have encountered more developmental problems because they were adopted at an older age.

Could color prejudice be a reason? Perhaps the biracial children were unconsciously treated worse than the white children. By the same reasoning, they may have been treated better than the black children. We can test the second half of this hypothesis. Twelve of the biracial children were wrongly thought by their adoptive parents to have two black parents. Nonetheless, they scored on average at the same level as the biracial children correctly classified by their adoptive parents (Scarr and Weinberg 1976).

The Eyferth study

Another study found no difference in IQ between white and biracial children. This was a study of children fathered by American soldiers in Germany and then raised by German mothers (Eyferth 1961). It found no significant difference in IQ between children with white fathers and children with black fathers. Both groups had a mean IQ of about 97.

These findings were criticized by Rushton and Jensen (2005) on three grounds:

1. The children were still young when tested. One third were between 5 and 10 years old and two thirds between 10 and 13. Since IQ is strongly influenced by family environment before puberty, a much larger sample would be needed to find a significant difference between the two groups.

2. Between 20 and 25% of the “black” fathers were actually North African.

3. At the time of the study, the US Army screened out low IQ applicants with its preinduction Army General Classification Test. The rejection rate was about 30% for African Americans and 3% for European Americans. African American soldiers are thus a biased sample of the African American population.

Another factor is that the capacity for intelligence seems to be more malleable in children than in adults. We see this with the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study. In the enriched learning environment of middle-class Minnesota families, all of the children showed impressive IQ scores at 7 years of age. By 17 years of age, however, this benefit had largely washed out:

-------------------- Age 7 Age 17

Black children ----- 97 ----- 89

Biracial children - 109 ----- 99

White children --- 112 ---- 106

Does intelligence really decline with age because of wear and tear on the brain? Perhaps we’re programmed to be most intelligent in childhood. That’s when we have to familiarize ourselves with the world. The capacity for intelligence may then be gradually deactivated as we get older because it’s less necessary.

This deactivation may follow different trajectories in different human groups. In early Homo sapiens, it may have begun not long after puberty. As ancestral humans made the transition to farming, sedentary living, and increasingly complex societies, this learning capacity became more necessary in adulthood, with the result that natural selection favored those individuals who retained it at older ages. This gene-culture coevolution would have gone farther in some populations than in others.

The Fuerst et al study

A recent study led by John Fuerst has confirmed the intermediate IQ of biracial individuals, this time in adults. The research team used the General Social Survey, which includes not only ethnic, sociological, and demographic data but also a measure of intelligence (WordSum):

The relationship between biracial status, color, and crystallized intelligence was examined in a nationally representative sample of adult Black and White Americans. First, it was found that self-identifying biracial individuals, who were found to be intermediate in color and in self-reported ancestry, had intermediate levels of crystallized intelligence relative to self-identifying White (mostly European ancestry) and Black (mostly sub-Saharan African ancestry) Americans. The results were transformed to an IQ scale: White (M = 100.00, N = 7569), primarily White-biracial (M = 96.07, N = 43, primarily Black-biracial (M = 94.14 N = 50), and Black (M = 89.81, N = 1381).

The same study also found a significant negative correlation among African Americans between facial color and WordSum scores. The correlation was low (r = -0.102), but it would be difficult to get a higher correlation because of the measures used. Self-reported skin color correlates imperfectly with actual skin color, which in turn correlates imperfectly with European admixture. Wordsum likewise correlates imperfectly with IQ (r = 0.71). On a final note, the correlation between facial color and WordSum scores was not explained by region of residence, interviewer’s race, parental socioeconomic status, or individual educational attainment.


Eyferth, K. (1961). Leistungen verscheidener Gruppen von Besatzungskindern in Hamburg-Wechsler Intelligenztest für Kinder (HAWIK). Archiv für die gesamte Psychologie 113: 222-241.

Fuerst, J.G.R., R. Lynn, and E.O.W. Kirkegaard. (2019). The Effect of Biracial Status and Color on Crystallized Intelligence in the U.S.-Born African-European American Population. Psych 1(1): 44-54. https://dx.doi.org/10.3390/Psychology1010004

Levin, M. (1994). Comment on the Minnesota transracial adoption study. Intelligence 19: 13-20.

Lynn, R. (1994). Some reinterpretations of the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study. Intelligence 19: 21-27.

Rushton, P. and A.R. Jensen. (2005). Thirty years of research on race differences in cognitive ability. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 11: 235-294.

Scarr, S., and Weinberg, R.A. (1976). IQ test performance of Black children adopted by White families. American Psychologist 31: 726-739.

Weinberg, R.A., Scarr, S., and Waldman, I.D. (1992). The Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study: A follow-up of IQ test performance at adolescence. Intelligence 16: 117-135.